Karin and I moved from Saratoga Springs, NY to Montana in 1999 and come our second winter here I was offered a job as the supervisor of the snowboard school at the Bridger Bowl Ski Area here in Bozeman. Frankly I had no business being the supervisor of a crew of more than 20 snowboard instructors when I’d never even taught a single snowboard lesson in my life. But the head of the snow-sports school believed in me and wanted me to fill the newly formed position.
When I started the job I was introduced to a young man named Bob. Bob was the ski supervisor at the school and he and I would spend pretty much all day, everyday, side by side as we each did our respective jobs.
I was seriously apprehensive about how Bob, a long time veteran of ski instruction, and the others would feel about having a guy who’d never worked at a school supervising the staff and teaching them how to teach paying clients. I got the cold shoulder from plenty of folks at first but not from Bob. I had no idea how to perform the basic daily functions the job required and I was never really told by the big boss but on the second or third day of the job I noticed that Bob was going out of his way to lead by example and show me what needed to be done. Never once did he come out and tell me ‘do this’ but instead made sure I saw him doing what needed to be done ………. then he gave me enough rope to do the job or hang myself. At least that’s what it felt like at the time but in retrospect I can see that he never would have let me drop the ball but would have shown me in his gentle way that something needed to be done and how to do it.
In time I got the hang of the basics of the job and not every moment of my working day was punctuated by fear of screwing up. It was at this time that I got to know Bob and the more I got to know him the more I liked him.
At the time Bob was just 32 years old, stood about 6’4” and weighed about 240 pounds. He was built like a big Montana ranch hand and not like the typical high-end skier – but looks were deceiving. He was beautiful on skis and a gifted teacher, He could watch a skier while we glided over them on the lift and within a just a few turns could see what they were doing wrong and how they could fix it. And unlike most ski instructors he could even look at a snowboarder and come up with the same advice. In fact in my 30 years of snowboarding some of the best advice I ever got was from the skier Bob.
We worked side by side for two years and it was a joy and privilege to work along side him. For two years we did everything we could to squeeze as many runs in as possible between work tasks. We would be booted up and ready to roll and as soon as all the lessons were assigned to instructors and then Bob and I raced to the lift to get as many runs as possible in before we needed to come back down and do the same thing all over again with a new group of students. On slow days, or late in the afternoon after all the lessons were over, we’d gather a big group of instructors and head out into the falling powder to ride hard, and laugh even harder, until we nearly wet out pants. For those two years we spent countless hours making the best turns of our lives and then getting on the lift together yet one more time and solving the world’s problems. The job’s pay was low but I’ve never had more fun in my life and it was all made possible by Bob and his company.
After two seasons doing the best job in the world I made the difficult decision to quit the Bridger job and focus on my framebuilding business while Bob stayed on for a few more seasons. I of course would play hooky and go up and make some turns with my old friend whenever I could but it was never enough. Bob started his own business and left Bridger Bowl and I didn’t get to see him that much after that.
Sadly a few weeks ago Bob had a blood clot in one of his lungs. After much testing they diagnosed him as having lung cancer……………and within a few short weeks Bob died. It was of course known that he was sick but he was big and strong and cheerful and no one expected he would die. Surgery was scheduled and the prognosis was good for a real recovery. I don’t know exactly what happened a week ago when Bob took a serious turn for the worse and died……….and I suppose it doesn’t matter much at this point.
I have of course been spending a lot of time thinking of the injustice of it all and how unfair it is to take a young man in the prime of it life………….but I’ve been doing my best to not dwell on those thoughts and feelings and instead I’m trying to remember the countless great days I had with him and all the fun we had. As I said before Bob was a big Montana boy but he was also a little boy at heart and this showed during slow times when he and I would be in the ski school locker room and he would get an evil gleam in his eye and loudly proclaim that it was time for a rousing game of ‘Breaking stuff!’ which really was just taking stuff and throwing it around the room as fast as possible until something broke. So we have two grown men hucking crap around the room for entertainment. We also had two ‘games’ we loved to play on the snow – one was called ‘Shrubbery’ and the other ‘Kill the follower’. The Shrubbery game was really just the two of us daring each other to try to ski through thicker and bigger clumps of shrub undergrowth until one of us got stuck……usually hung upside-down in the undergrowth. Holy crap was that silly fun. ‘Kill the follower’ was just as simple……..it involved one of us leading the other through terrain or trees that were virtually impossible to get through and at alarming rates of speed. The winner was the one that skied a line that the follower couldn’t, or wouldn’t, follow. This is a really good game.
The silliness and play we shared is just the tip of the iceberg and just as often we spent time talking about life and where we fit into it in the big scheme of things. Never before had I felt so understood, tolerated, and appreciated by another man the way I did with Bob. He was the definition of the word ‘friend’.
Playing these games, working on our technique, having serious discussions on the lift, floating in the bottomless powder, and then sitting in the bar after work, sunburned and tired, and having a beer is the way I want to remember my friend Bob…………..snow in his beard, light in his eyes and giggling like a 12 year old girl. I loved him and will miss him for longer than I can imagine.
What I wouldn’t give for just one more lift ride with my friend.
Here’s to Bob.